Today we’d like to welcome two-time National Book award finalist Adele Griffin and best selling author/illustrator Lisa Brown. Their illustrated novel PICTURE THE DEAD is available NOW. Go buy it. Seriously. Or just leave a comment on this post and make sure you’re a blog follower and we’ll enter you in a contest to win a copy!
And now let’s hear from the amazing authors about how they collaborated on this “gripping novel” (Shelf Awareness) and the “fanciful daguerreotype reconstructions [that] accompany the spookily ethereal story, cunningly providing clues to the puzzle” (Kirkus).
PICTURE THE DEAD is the culmination of years working on something—even though that something wasn’t always this book. We’d worked for about eighteen months on a story called BOOK OF HUMILIATIONS—sort of HEATHERS meets The Salem Witch Trials, with a dollop of HARRIET THE SPY.
As much as we adored that project, we needed to get very deep into it before we began to recognize some of its pitfalls and potholes. It was an ambitious venture, and while we didn’t see it to publication, we learned so much from it. We walked away from HUMILIATIONS knowing that the core of that idea held something cool, that our process was sound and organized, and we wanted to keep challenging ourselves. And so we embarked in a new direction, an illustrated paranormal thriller ghost story for young adults.
PICTURE THE DEAD is a ghost story and a mystery that’s set at the end of the Civil War. Jenny Lovell (our protagonist) must unravel the secrets behind her fiancé's death—and discover how to put his tortured spirit to rest. The story took shape through extensive historical research for both the plot and the illustrations. Each character, illustration, and setting was based on actual photographs and places.
Outlining and writing a book that is told partly with words and partly with images is a challenge. Add to that the fact that we live on opposite coasts, and you’ve got a full-on capital C Challenge. We sent a lot of email, and were on the phone a lot more than we usually want to be. But really, we went about constructing our plot together much in the same way that we would have alone.
Once the broad strokes had been completed, Adele created a rough draft, with Jennie’s character emerging as a haunted Alice navigating a gothic Wonderland of clues, letters, and ghostly intimations. From there, Lisa reworked the draft so that whatever could be told visually could be extracted from the text, and reconceived through Jennie’s all-important scrapbook, which would appear in loose pages throughout the text. Lisa also inlaid the text with a deeper historical context. The project succeeded because there was so much for each of us to do that played into our different strengths.
The old adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” holds really true for this book. All the writing that Lisa had done in the past has been for picture books. Everything short and repetitive, tiny prose poems for folks with a very limited vocabulary. For her, this project was a crash course in novel writing. For Adele, the crash course was learning accountability, the “why” behind every decision, knowing that it would have to be explained and—with Lisa’s keen ear for logic—justified. But with both of us assembling and deconstructing this story, we brought a different creative and editorial scope.
We are so excited to share PICTURE THE DEAD with the world and we’d like all of you to join us for a special event on May 6th at 7:30 PM PST (10 PM EST) when we’ll be hosting a book launch for PICTURE THE DEAD at the Booksmith in San Francisco. Lemony Snicket spokesperson (Daniel Handler) will be reading a statement of introduction!